National Broadband Plan ‘remains on track’, Government insists

31 Jul 2018

Leinster House. Image: Peter Krocka/Shutterstock

How much longer can rural Ireland wait?

The Irish Government, through the Department of Communications, has reaffirmed that the National Broadband Plan (NBP) to bring a minimum of 30Mbps broadband to rural Ireland is going ahead.

“The NBP remains on track, with a final bid expected from the Enet consortium in the coming weeks,” the Department of Communications said in a statement.

‘By 2020, nine out of 10 of all Irish premises will have access to a high-speed broadband connection’

“It is intended the procurement process will reach a conclusion shortly thereafter.”

The plan, which was first unveiled in 2012, has been rocked this week by the departure of Scottish electricity firm SSE from the final consortium left in the race, which also included Enet and involved John Laing Group in the UK.

In the past year, both Eir and the ESB-Vodafone joint venture Siro also walked away from the procurement process.

The precise reasons for SSE’s departure from the consortium were unclear. However, sources in the telecoms industry have warned that operators have found the contracts to be highly complex and unfeasible.

Is the plan gone off track?

SSE’s departure has also stirred up speculation that the price of delivering the NBP could be far more onerous than originally envisaged – a huge concern for commercial operators.

It has also emerged that a separate €100m plan announced last year by Enet and SSE to connect 115,000 homes in the north-west of Ireland – which would have been separate to the NBP – is unlikely to go ahead.

The whole episode has prompted politicians from rural Ireland to lament the situation and call for a new plan to be drawn up. Despite this, the Department of Communications is insisting the plan is going ahead.

Earlier this year, when Eir left the procurement process, Communications Minister Denis Naughten, TD, said that the Government had a “plan B” if the procurement process stalled.

The Department of Communications said in a statement last night: “The Enet consortium has reaffirmed its commitment to the National Broadband Plan and timelines around the procurement process. A formal notification from the consortium with regard to structural changes is awaited.”

It said that all has not been in vain and that since the plan’s onset, it has served as a catalyst in encouraging €2.75bn in investment by the telecoms sector in rural Ireland.

It said that today, seven out of 10 of all Irish premises have high-speed broadband. “By 2020, nine out of 10 of all Irish premises will have access to a high-speed broadband connection.

“This is not only in urban areas – Eir’s commercial rural deployment plan commits to providing high-speed broadband to over 300,000 premises, predominantly in rural areas and including the west of the country. Although figures for Q2 2018 have not yet been verified by the Department, it is understood that Eir have passed a total of 175,000 premises as of Q2 2018,” the Department of Communications said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years